A Northwoods Almanac for July 21 – August 3, 2017
Last week, Mary and I paddled on a wilderness bog lake in the U.P. that was home to many hundreds of flowering orchids, and two species, grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosa) and rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), comprised all of them (we were too late to see dragon’s-mouth orchid which had already gone-by).
|rose polonia photo by Rod Sharka|
Orchids have evolved remarkable flower structures to attract insect pollinators. One petal is usually modified into a lip or a pouch (lady’s slipper orchids, for instance) to ensure pollination. The lip acts as a landing pad, the pouch as a non-lethal trap. Unlike most plants whose pollen grains are microscopic and windborne, orchids concentrate their pollen into wads of “pollinia” hidden or protected within the flower where the wind can’t carry it away. The pollen can only be picked up by specific insects that have co-evolved to fit the flower and be tricked into having the pollen stick to them, thus providing a hitchhiked ride to the next flower.
The grass pink orchid utilizes an unusual pollination strategy, projecting its “lip” straight up at the top of the flower.
|grass pink orchid photo by John Bates|
The lip appears to have many hair-like stamens on it which would ordinarily be the carriers of pollen and nectar, but it’s a ruse. The lip is actually hinged so that when an insect, usually a small bee, lands on the lip anticipating nectar, the weight of the bee causes the lip to fold down at the hinge. In turn, this causes the bee to fall backward onto a curved column beneath it where the pollinia awaits.
|From Charles Johnson's Bogs of the Northeast|
The pollinia sticks to the insect’s back, the insect struggles to exit, and then flies to another flower hoping for better luck. But the same event happens again. The next flower receives the pollen from the previous flower, and in turn deposits its pollen onto the unwitting insect, all of whom must be slow learners. Take a look at the following video to see the process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmff9cg6M7c
Paddling the Gile Flowage
On 7/17, Mary and I paddled part of the Gile Flowage in Iron County as part of an event sponsored by the Iron County Outdoor Recreation Enthusiasts. We were led by ace historian and conservationist Cathy Techtmann who works as the Environmental Outreach State Specialist for UW-Extension. The 3,384-acre Gile Flowage is fed by the West Fork of the Montreal River and six other tributary streams, and has 26 miles of mostly undeveloped shoreline. With large outcroppings of exposed bedrock characteristic of the Canadian shield, numerous islands, and protected bays, and surrounded by land mostly owned by Xcel Energy, the Gile has a wild feel.
The flowage started filling in 1941 after Lake Superior District Power Company (merged into Northern States Power and now Xcel Energy) built a dam 30 feet high and 1100 feet long in 1940 on the West Fork of the Montreal River. The flowage serves as a water retention reservoir for downstream hydroelectric facilities at Saxon Falls and Superior Falls on the Montreal River.
I’m used to shallow waters in our area that are covered with aquatic vegetation, but a study of the Gile found 85% of the littoral area (near-shore shallows) contained no aquatic vegetation, a likely consequence of summer and winter drawdowns conducted by Xcel Energy. A typical annual water level regime includes a gradual summer drawdown beginning in early May and averaging 6 feet by October. Winter drawdown begins in early December and typically averages another 7 to 8 feet by early March.
The Gile holds the lamentable title of the first inland water body in Wisconsin to be invaded by the exotic spiny water flea, but so far its direct impact on the fishery is unclear. A native of Asia, this tiny crustacean was brought to Lake Superior in the ballast water of transoceanic ships and discovered in the Gile in 2003. Spiny water fleas eat the microscopic freshwater plankton needed by baby game fish.
This is big water and wind is often an issue here for paddlers, but if you’re looking to explore a little-known body of water quite different than most in our area, then try the Gile.
Deer Fly Patches
I write about this nearly every year, but just for a reminder in case your memory is as leaky as mine, there is a simple way to defeat the incessant circling, and biting, of deer flies around one’s head. A company in LeRoy, MI, makes sticky, odorless deerfly patches that you place on the top of your hat. One side is mildly sticky like duct tape, and this is the side you place down on your hat. The other side, the upside, is very sticky, and deer flies, which almost always go for the highest point on a person, adhere to the tape instantly. Basically, you make yourself into a walking fly trap. When you’re done working or playing outside for the day, you just roll the tape off your hat into a ball and toss it, and the flies, into the waste can. Simple, no chemicals, and it works like a charm. Since no insect repellants work on deer flies, I’ve used the patches for years. Get them at many sports shops in our area or through the company’s website: www.deerflypatches.com).
|deer fly patch doing its job!|
7/3: Judith Bloom reported seven pairs of loons of Lake Tomahawk, of which four hatched chicks and one was still on a nest.
7/12: Pyrollas, or shinleafs, are in flower in sandier soils in our area. In the wintergreen family, the waxy, typically white flowers always hang downward. Another member of the wintergreen family, pippsissewa, is also now in flower and likewise hangs downward.
7/13: An eagle chick fledged from the nest which we watch across the Manitowish River from our home. This is a bit early, but not as early as the eagle chick that fledged near Bob Kovar’s home in Manitowish Waters. It fledged on 7/2. Our early snow-off and ice-out this spring made early nesting an option, and many eagles appear to have taken advantage of it. Bob notes that “his” eagle is making a huge racket, which is typical of young eaglets who may beg for food well into the fall.
7/14: Silver maples below our house are turning red already due to stress from high water. The Manitowish River has been in flood since April, and all that water is proving to be too stressful for some trees.
7/15: On a hike at Powell Marsh WMA, we found Deptford pink wildflowers. These delicate, tall, exquisitely pink flowers were given the Latin genus name Dianthus: Dianthus from “dios” which means God, and “anthos” for flower – the divine flower. Unfortunately, Deptfor pink is an escapee – an introduced flower. However, it is not in the least bit invasive, so we still marvel when we see it.
7/16: Sarah Krembs sent a photo of a black bear gorging on sunflower seeds from a tube feeder that she had just filled 20 minutes earlier. Kind of the bear to give the birds a brief breakfast first.
Mary and I concluded our three frog counts for the year on July 13. What struck me this year was how comparatively early our nine frog species all began singing, courtesy I’m sure of our early ice-out which moved up the normal timing. The frogs that are left singing now in mid-July are green frogs and bullfrogs. The rest have bred, laid eggs, and are living their more terrestrial lifestyles now. Occasionally spring peepers still chime in, and may do so all the way into the fall, but their breeding period is long past.
Fireworks and Wildlife
July 4th is over - enough with the fireworks already! Why am I a curmudgeon about this? Here’s one reason from a writer on Little Arbor Vitae Lake:
“We are summertime residents of Arbor Vitae on Little Arb. We have a beautiful gray fox who comes nearly every evening on his or her nightly rounds . . . My grandfather always called gray foxes tree foxes, but I had never witnessed one actually climb a tree until this summer. On July 3, my daughter and I were sitting on our front porch. The fox came along and climbed a tree right across from where we were sitting. Our neighbors whose cottage you cannot see, as they are far enough away, decided that it would be fun to throw strings of firecrackers into the road. The first string of firecrackers exploded when the fox was about twelve feet up; the poor fox was so startled that it either jumped or fell out of the tree! Whap! Whap! Whap! Thump! It immediately started crying. I know they make a bark; it was not the bark; it was their other vocalization. You know, your first instinct is to jump up and make sure it was okay, especially because its distress was caused by another human, but I thought, "No, I have to just let things happen." The fox laid there and cried intermittently for about twenty minutes and then after that was silent. My daughter and I feared the worst. But we saw a fox two nights later and assume it to be the same fox. What a relief! It was astonishing enough to see the fox climb the tree, and it was quite distressing to see it fall out and cry. I am upset that this was a man-made problem. Anyway, that is my tale, and I am still excited to see this fox nearly every day. What a treat!”
The new moon occurs on 7/23. We’re down to 15 hours of daylight as of 7/26. This is our last warmest day of the summer with an average high of 79°. The peak Delta Aquarid meteor shower takes place in the early morning of 7/28 – look for an average of 15 to 20 meteors per hour. Look on the evening of 8/2 for Saturn about 3 degrees south of the waxing gibbous moon.
Thought for the Week
“And that is just the point . . . how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?’” ~ Mary Oliver